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Academy Apologizes to Sacheen Littlefeather for Mistreatment While Declining Marlon Brando’s Oscar

Brando refused his Best Actor Oscar for The Godfather in 1973, and Sacheen took the stage on his behalf

academy apologizes sacheen littlefeather marlon brando oscar 1973
Sacheen Littlefeather, UCLA Library Special Collection
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    The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has apologized to Sacheen Littlefeather, who endured racist mockery and threats of arrest and violence when she appeared on Marlon Brando’s behalf at the 1973 Oscars and declined his award for Best Actor.

    Via The Hollywood Reporter, the Academy privately apologized to Littlefeather in June and will read the apology publicly on September 17th, when she’ll be the guest of honor at an event at the Academy Museum. “I was stunned. I never thought I’d live to see the day I would be hearing this, experiencing this,” Littlefeather said. “When I was at the podium in 1973, I stood there alone.”

    An actor herself, Littlefeather was mocked with tomahawk chops and ululations when she spoke for Brando, who had won Best Actor for his work in The Godfather. Moments before she took the stage, ceremony producer Howard Koch told her that she would be arrested if she talked for longer than 60 seconds. During her speech, John Wayne reportedly had to be restrained from charging the podium and attacking her.

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    “[Brando] very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award,” Littlefeather said, improvising because she didn’t have time to read Brando’s eight pages of prepared remarks. “And the reasons for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry [audience boos] – excuse me – and on television in movie reruns, and also with recent happenings at Wounded Knee.” This was a reference to the American Indian Movements occupation of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, which was unknown to most Americans because the US Department of Justice had imposed a media blackout.

    “The abuse you endured because of this statement was unwarranted and unjustified,” then-Academy president David Rubin wrote to Littlefeather in a June 18th letter. “The emotional burden you have lived through and the cost to your own career in our industry are irreparable. For too long the courage you showed has been unacknowledged. For this, we offer both our deepest apologies and our sincere admiration.”

    The apology is the brainchild of producer Bird Runningwater, co-chair of the Academy’s Indigenous Alliance. “Bird gave me a call – on the phone, of course,” Littlefeather said. “He tried to send smoke signals but they wouldn’t fit underneath the door.”

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    Runningwater will help moderate the September 17th event, “An Evening with Sacheen Littlefeather.” The conversation will be broadcast online, and virtual reservations are open now.

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